Assistive Technology

Many people with varied disabilities use technology to enhance learning, work, and independence by use of assistive technology.

A young child who cannot speak may use a communication device to express his or her needs in kindergarten. A young adult with vision impairment may use computer screen reading software programme to continue learning. A scholar with a physical disability may use the computer software, instead of a paper and pencil, to study or carry out research. Many people with varied disabilities use technology to enhance learning, work, and independence by use of assistive technology. It helps people with disabilities reach their full potential. Through increased independence and productivity, people with disabilities can be physically, socially, academically, recreationally, and vocationally integrated into the community.

Whether it is a common tool, a customized device, or a product system, technology can promote, increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Technology helps people get and keep jobs, and it allows people to enjoy greater participation in the community. People with disabilities who use technology discover how much it enhances the overall quality of their life; they see new possibilities and experience more of what life has to offer.

The fourteen categories of technology for individuals with disabilities

There are Aids for Daily Living (ADL) for use in activities such as eating, bathing, cooking, dressing, using toilet facilities and home maintenance. There are Bed Modification Devices (BMDs) that make functioning in the bedroom easier. Examples include manual beds, side rails and transfer equipment. There are Communication Aids, devices, and methods that enhance personal expressive communication. Examples include manual and electric picture boards. There are Computer Access Software and hardware that allow-persons with disabilities to use computers. There is Education Equipment that enables people with disabilities to carry out school or work-related tasks. There are Electronic Aids for Daily Living (EADL) Primarily electronic switches or systems that enable a person to control appliances, electronic aids, lights, telephones, security systems, etc. in a room, home or other surroundings. There are hearing devices that enhance hearing. Examples include hearing aids, visual and tactile alerting systems and telecommunications devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

There are Home/Building Modifications Structural adaptations to buildings that remove or reduce physical barriers. Examples include ramps and lifts, available in the K.U. Post Modern Library, as well as minor physical adaptations such as replacing doorknobs with levers. There are Mobility/Ambulation Devices that enhance movement. Examples include transfer aids, patient lifts, all types of wheelchairs and wheeled vehicles, canes, crutches and walkers. There are Prosthetics and Orthotics Artificial limbs and devices used to replace, substitute or augment missing or malfunctioning body parts and thereby facilitate function. Examples include braces, splints and supports. There are Recreation/Leisure Adaptations that enable people to participate in sports or other fun activities in their free time. Examples include hand cycles or modified snowboards. There are sitting and positioning modifications to wheelchairs or other seating systems that provide greater body stability, improved posture or reduction of pressure. Examples include wheelchair cushions, supports, modular seating and seat lifts. There are transportation/Driving Items that enable personal transportation. Examples include cars and vans (K.U Disability Services Shuttle), fitted with boarding facilitation systems, child restraint systems and modifications to ensure vehicle access. There are Vision Devices that enhance sight. Examples include eyeglasses, magnification devices and other equipment (e.g., talking calculators and large button phones) for people with visual impairments.

A man puts his wheelchair on a wheelchair ramp | © Andi Weiland

Converting vehicles to meet the needs of the disabled: EnableMe informs about possibilities and financing aids. (Photo: Gesellschaftsbilder)

Types of service that support technology for PWD

It is important to remember that productive use of technology for people with disabilities requires more than just having access to equipment. Without services such as information, selection, acquisition, evaluation, and training, technology for individuals with disabilities is virtually useless. Below are types of services that support technology for people with disabilities:

Consultation/Observation is a preliminary service that gathers information about the range of potential technology that may be of value to a person with a disability. Assessment/Evaluation is a formal analysis performed by a skilled practitioner or a team of practitioners in the field of technology for people with disabilities. The evaluation will incorporate multiple techniques and include recommendations for technology products or systems that will enhance an individual’s life in defined areas. There may be specific requirements for a technology evaluation in education. It is possible to get help in obtaining commercially available technology or components. It is possible to fit installations and modifications to optimize the consumer’s ability to use the technology. Training helps in acquiring skills, knowledge and attitudes that maximize the use of the equipment. Maintenance/Repair refers to a systematic set of procedures aimed at keeping the device in good working order; an action taken to correct a problem in a device or system. It is possible to custom, fabricate, and make or modify devices/equipment when those which are commercially available do not meet a consumer’s specific needs.

By Fred Michori Osege